This paper explores the role of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and open-source prototyping processes in participatory design practices aimed at advancing grassroots digital sovereignty. The emergent term “digital sovereignty” describes various forms of autonomy, self-determination and independence in relation to technologies, digital infrastructures and data. The case study we analyze here, (the MAZI EU-funded project) was planned for translating “big” questions on the meaning of digital sovereignty into situated hands-on engagements and transdisciplinary work between local residents, activists, academics and designers. It concerns a collaborative prototyping process that focuses on the development of Community Wireless Network (CWN) technology in Berlin’s urban space, for creating locally and corporate-free platforms for sharing information and organizing collective action. The paper shows how DIY and open source prototyping can positively contribute to addressing challenges of participation towards digital sovereignty in the city, by bringing together different political and epistemic groups in academy-community partnership. However, by critically examining the tensions and conflicts that emerged in the process, it argues that openness and collaborative experimentation in itself do not guarantee the long-term infrastructuring goals of digital participation, self-determination and autonomy. Rather, the broader transition to digital sovereignty requires long-term design coalitions for sustaining the ongoing maintenance of open and collaborative socio-technical infrastructures.
Transition, Prototyping, Self-determination, Digital sovereignty, Community Wireless Networks, DIY-Networking, Academy-Community partnerships, open-source technology, right to the city